Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Memo from the RTC: Damn Yankees - The Kids Are Alright - Updated with photos and video

The crowded backstage
This was last Friday's column - boy am I running behind. The show closed this past Sunday with all sell-out performances. I had to race from backstage to the booth where I was taping. I love hanging out in both places - a unique perspective on live theater.

Some highlights from opening night:

Nov. 21, 2014
Memo from the RTC: Damn Yankees - The Kids Are Alright
By Norm Scott

The hair salon backstage
The opening weekend of the Rockaway Theatre Company production of the reprise of the Faustian “deal with the devil” updated to the sports arena in Damn Yankees, was sold out. And sellouts are expected (a few tickets remain www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org) for the four shows this weekend - Nov. 21-23 (Friday and Saturday night (8 PM) and Saturday and Sunday matinees (3PM). There were so many good reviews from audiences on the way out. A friend emailed me late Saturday night: “As always, a great show. Music/dance numbers were a smash. Either I didn't catch Katherine Robinson in previous plays or I must have been dead. She was terrific as Lola – my friend said - better than Gwen Verdon (who played the role on Broadway and in the movie).” I’m sorry my friend didn’t come see the Sunday matinee where RTC newcomer Erika Brito, who will be in 3 out of the 4 upcoming weekend performances, played Lola to equal perfection.

John Panepinto plays the devil with his triple threat skillset with touches of his bravura performance on the art of manipulation as the lead in “How to Succeed…” last spring at the RTC – except this time those manipulative efforts end in failure. This weekend, RTC newcomer Michael Whalen will play the devil in most of the performances. In the rehearsals I’ve seen he is also fabulous, though bringing a slightly different interpretation to the role. I hope Michael and Erika will become part of the RTC stable of top level talent (lots of excitement building already for next summer’s Guys and Dolls.)

John’s real-life sister, Dana DiAngelo practically steals the show as Gloria, a houndog of a reporter looking to expose corruption. Just wait until you see her tap dance. RTC mainstays David Risley and Jodee Timone play the roles of older Joe and his wife Meg respectively and as usual, deliver. I’ve seen Jodee, a former teacher at PS 114 in Belle Harbor, mostly in comedies and dramas at the RTC so I haven’t heard much of her singing, but she is wonderful. David, of course, can do just about anything on stage. And I can never get enough of watching Susan Warren Corning play anything. In the role of Sister she turns a fairly minor character into a force, delivering her lines with perfect comic timing.

Since I have no heavy lifting as an actor or set changer, other than about a 5 hour time commitment for each show, I get to do a lot of listening and watching while standing around backstage, in the lobby and up in the control booth, where I tape some of the shows. I keep a gag handy in the booth for when Producer Susan Jasper’s “angelic” comments (not one mess-up will go unnoticed) crack everyone up. Director John Gilleece is also up there taking copious notes for post-show reminders as Stage Manager Nora Meyers calls out instructions over the walkie talkie on every aspect of the show.

I have enormous fun taking part in the shows with big casts with lots of kids and teens watching how they interact with each other and with the young adult 20-somethings, especially since some of the young adults had been involved in the RTC children and teen program when they themselves were kids and grew up to become full-fledged actors, dancers and singers. Most of the conversations backstage throw me for a cultural loop. The other day they were reminiscing about their favorite TV shows in their youth (like a decade or less ago) and I had no clue. My youth was full of black and white TV – Father Knows Best, Life of Reilly, Superman, Dragnet – so I just keep my mouth shut. Since Damn Yankees takes place in the 50s, the outfits of the young ladies are very retro – “I feel I am back in high school,” I announced one evening. “That must be Norm,” one of them said. Who else, except for my other baby boomer colleagues – my fellow reporters Curtis (50-50) Wanderer and Tony (master-builder) Homsey, Cathy Murfitt (in a variety of roles), Fred Grieco (team owner) and Cliff Hesse, playing the manager who leads the Senators in a rousing rendition of “You Gotta Have Heart”. Sometimes we look at each other and shrug – are we in a foreign country?

Most of the youngsters emerge out of the fall/winter Saturday RTC young people’s theatre workshops where they prepare full-scale plays, this winter Seussical Jr (end of January/early Feb) and Legally Blonde Jr. (end of Feb/early March). Don’t miss seeing the future (and some current) stars.

View a 4-minute highlight reel of the show at:https://vimeo.com/112178951

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